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Work The Adoration of the Shepherds

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

L'Adoration des bergers

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Dupuy Marie-Anne

The Adoration of the Shepherds is one of Fragonard's most famous religious pictures; he also executed a painting of the same scene. The composition focuses on the infant Jesus, who is symbolically placed in the center. The very subtle play of black chalk strokes and wash laid on delicately with a brush brings the scene to life and gives it a grave, emotional feeling. Contemporaries described this sheet as "drawn with facility and spirit."

A private commission

This drawing is linked to a painting in the Louvre (RF 1988-11). The latter was commissioned by Louis Gabriel, marquis de Veri, a distinguished art lover. Between 1775 and 1779, the marquess accumulated a large collection including works by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Hubert Robert, and no fewer than ten paintings by Fragonard. The drawing and the painting are both dated about 1776.

Fragonard, a painter of religious subjects

Fragonard's reputation is largely based on his "boudoir" paintings, depicting lighthearted subjects (see the famous painting The Swing in the Wallace Collection, London), naked women, and amorous embraces. It is often forgotten that he was also a remarkable painter of religious subjects. In this register, Fragonard was most interested in themes centered on a child. Several paintings and drawings of the childhood of the Virgin or Jesus are known, including this one, where we see the Infant Jesus, surrounded by the Virgin, St. Joseph, and the shepherds on their knees. A very pale wash surrounds the group with a soft light, with little contrast, whereas, in his paintings, Fragonard employs light in a manner reminiscent of Rembrandt.

A study or a replica?

As is often the case with Fragonard, it is hard to tell whether the drawing is a preparation for the painting-suggested by the fact that the postures of the shepherds on the right are not exactly the same in the two works-or instead a variation inspired by the painting, a fairly common practice for Fragonard. Thus, for a number of subjects that were highly appreciated by his contemporaries, it is not unusual to find two or three paintings, drawings, or watercolors, very similar in composition, for which the order of execution is quite difficult to determine.

Bibliography

Ananoff Alexandre, L'oeuvre dessiné de Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), Paris, I, 1961, n 460, fig. 160.
Cuzin Jean-Pierre, Fragonard - Cabinet des dessins, Paris-Milan, 2003, n 28.
Rosenberg Pierre, Fragonard, Exposition Paris au Grand-Palais, New York au Metropolitan Museum, 1987-1988, n 235.

Technical description

  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse, 1732-Paris, 1806)

    The Adoration of the Shepherds

    C. 1776

  • Brown wash over black chalk drawing

    H. 35.6 cm; W. 46.3 cm

  • Duc de Chabot collection, anonymous sale, 10-15 December 1787, no. 273; Robelot collection, anonymous sale, Paris, 22-23 April 1830, no. 86; Hippolyte Walferdin collection, sale, Paris, 12-16 April 1880, no. 219; Dr. Suchet collection; Sigismond Bardac collection; George and Florence Blumenthal collection, Paris and New York, sale, Paris, 1-2 December 1932, n 29; purchased by the Louvre, 1968

    RF 31875

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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